Stonehenge campaigners take fight against controversial road scheme to High Court for second time

A Stonehenge campaign group are seeking a judicial review of a government decision. 

A Stonehenge campaign group is seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision to approve a £2.5 billion road scheme that goes underneath the UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a second time.

It is calling the plans "proposed vandalism" of the 5,000-year-old landscape.

Then-transport secretary Grant Shapps gave the green light to the project in November 2020 despite advice from Planning Inspectorate officials it would cause “permanent, irreversible harm” to the area.

However, The Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site alliance successfully challenged his decision in the High Court.

The Department for Transport approved the tunnel from Amesbury to Berwick Down in Wiltshire for the second time on 14 July 2023.

The plans are designed to speed up journey times on the A303, a major link to south-west England, and include:

  • Eight miles of free-flowing, high-quality dual carriageway between Amesbury and Berwick Down

  • A tunnel at least two miles long underneath the World Heritage Site, closely following the existing A303 route, but a further 50 metres away from the Stonehenge monument, avoiding important archaeological sites, and avoiding intrusion on the view of the setting sun from the stones during the winter solstice

  • A new bypass to the north of the village of Winterbourne Stoke

  • Junctions with the A345 and A360 either side of the World Heritage Site

On Tuesday 12 December, Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) will be back at the High Court in London.

John Adams, chair of the Stonehenge Alliance, and one of the three directors of SSWHS, said: “In the face of government indifference to the harm this road will cause the World Heritage Site, we had no choice but to bring this legal action. 

National Highways said the tunnel will reduce traffic and cut journey times. Credit: National Highways

“As before we hope we are successful in overturning this proposed vandalism. We hope justice will be served over the next three days.”

Dan Snow, British historian and television presenter, said: “It’s astonishing that the government is persisting with such a damaging scheme when there’s so much opposition. 

"Even UNESCO opposes it.  

“They’ve got to come up with something better. Simply cutting right through one of the most important archaeological sites on planet Earth shows little respect for humanity or our heritage. 

"There are plenty of other solutions that could reduce traffic past Stonehenge.”

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said: “Despite this road development being so controversial, and despite important new matters which required proper scrutiny, the Secretary of State ignored calls for a fresh public examination. 

More than 230,000 people are against the plans.

“Our clients consider that was unfair and potentially a breach of human rights. Also, no regard whatsoever was given to the risk that Stonehenge would lose its World Heritage status if plans were approved, which our clients say was plainly irrational.

"We look forward to presenting these arguments to the court.”

SSWHS has successfully raised the £80,000 needed to bring this action in just over four months. 

The hearing is set to last three days and will consider several grounds.

UNESCO, five planning inspectors, and more than 230,000 people are against the plans.

David Bullock, A303 Stonehenge Project Director for National Highways, said: “We acknowledge there is a clear process for any legal challenge, we are taking part in that legal process and we remain confident this scheme is the best solution for tackling a long-standing traffic bottleneck, improving journeys, bringing much needed relief to local communities and boosting the economy in the south-west, while conserving and enhancing the World Heritage Site.

“In the meantime, and following the granting of the scheme’s Development Consent Order, we are continuing to plan and make preparations for starting preliminary work and archaeology fieldwork on site in 2024.”

The Department for Transport has declined to comment while the review is ongoing.